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THREAD THE NEEDLE 231
could together by seven or eight o'clock, when they would adjourn to the churchyard, where the old sexton had opened the churchyard gates for them; the children would then join hands in a long line until they encompassed the church; they then, with hands still joined, would walk round the church three times; and when dismissed by the old sexton, would return to their homes much pleased that they " Clipped the Church," and shouting similar lines to those said at Trowbridge.
At South Petherton, in South Somerset, sixty or seventy years ago, it was the practice of the young folk of both sexes to meet in or near the market-place, and there commence " Threading the needle " through the streets, collecting numbers as they went. When this method of recruiting ceased to add to their ranks, they proceeded, still threading the needle, to the church, which they tried to encircle with joined hands; and then, whether successful or not, they returned to their respective homes. Old people, who remember having taken part in the game, say that it always commenced in the afternoon or evening of Shrove Tuesday, " after having eaten of their pancakes." In Leicestershire County Folk-lore, p. 114, Mr. Billson records that it was formerly the custom on Shrove Tuesday for the lads and lasses to meet in the gallery of the Women's Ward in Trinity Hospital to play at " Thread the Needle " and similar games.
At Evesham the custom is still more distinctly connected with the game, as the following quotation shows :—" One custom of the town is connected with a sport called ' Thread my needle,' a game played here by the children of the town throughout the various streets at sunset upon Easter Monday, and at no other period throughout the year. The players cry while elevating their arms arch-wise—
Open the gates as high as the sky, And let Victoria's troops pass by."
—May's History of Evesham, p. 319.
As all these customs occur in the early spring of the year, there is reason to think that in this game we have a relic of the oldest sacred dances, and it is at least a curious point that